Rod Esam - Australian Tour Diary , by Eve Esam:

July 2003 - November 2003 - on the road
July 8, Rod, myself and our 3 boys locked the gates to our property on the mid Nth Coast of NSW and started on our 12 month tour of Australia to promote Rod as a country music artist and Rod’s latest Album “ Earthmover”.

Our first destination, Broken Hill to a little town on the NSW-SA Border called Cockburn. Rod was born in Broken Hill and many of his family live in the area. It seemed appropriate to start his tour in the Outback, the land where he was born, the land that taught him his life values. Rod was also invited by Outback Regional Development Organisation, ORDO (www.ordo.org.au) to partner them in a project to help create awareness and funds for a valuable Outback service, being the Outback Telecentre Network Inc., OTNI (www.otni.org.au), which is spread over an area of 1,200,000 square miles. These OTNI telecentres were created when funds were made available through 'Networking the Nation', a Federal Government project. The centres were established in original buildings of remote communities eg the Cockburns Telecentre is in their 114 year old school house.

The Centres provide services to not only their local communities but also for the wider community including travelers. These services include, phone, computer, internet access and IT services, accredited and non accredited education & training courses, business resources such as photocopying, faxing, laminating and other facilities that make them a viable hub for their local community. Many of the centres include other services such as Postal, RTA and other Government services etc and are run by either employees and/or volunteers. The biggest problem facing these centres is that once the funds run out, if they have not found a way to remain self sustainable, they will be shut down.

Cockburn is a town with a population of approx 28 people,(www.cockburn.org.au), which lies on the NSW and SA border 50km’s west of Broken Hill. The town itself is an old railway town which once bustled with over 1500 people, where steam train engines would be turned on a large turntable and redirected back to Adelaide. The only reminder of that era is the old dog bolts frequently found amongst the salt bush and peppercorn trees, a weary old timber sign which still stands telling people to “Look For Train” and of course the tall red square water tanks which are prominently displayed along the sun setting horizon of the Barrier Highway. These were once used to fill the steam engines with water along their route, left now with some old peeling paint revealing the Angora and Billy Tea advertisements.

Once the railway was shut down so too the town was to be closed. Except this town was different, they formed the Cockburn Progress Association led by Iris Williams and the community started running and buying back their own town, maintaining for instance water, electricity, postal service, waste and recycling. Due to its pro activeness as a town it then received a new police station, CFS and SES building, vehicles and training and then in 1999, ORDO initiated the OTNI Telecentre grants which saw the Cockburn-Burns Outback Telecentre and 14 other centres set up in remote communities.

Employed by the Cockburn Telecentre, it was my job to help create further interest in these centres by the locals and the surrounding stations of which there are about 40 as well as co-ordinate a fundraising concert tour for the network of Telecentres . We lived in the community in the old Cockburn police house, complete with a gaol cell out the back which I threatened the kids with a few times. This positioned us close to Rod’s pop, Jim Williams who was pretty much Rod’s hero. Rod wrote the song “Gentleman Jim”, Track 4 off the “Earthmover” album, about his pop and he now had the opportunity to help care for and comfort him in his last few months of life.

Jim was as someone descriptively put it, as tough as granite. At 91 his muscular strength and defiant spirit represented the remnants of an era of hardworking men and women created by the harshness of the Australian Outback. Pop used to trap rabbits for a living, he went on to be a professional Roo shooter. This was the days before cars. Pop would walk along with his rifle and would shoot and skin up to 16 kangaroos and carry the skins on his back, back to camp. If you can picture that thought in your mind in the stinking heat of the Outback with all those flies…….! He told us one day up on the dog fence he saw a motor car, he laughed, he said “that car was so bloody slow I walked shot and skun 4 Roos and still bloody kept up with it”. He shook his head after telling that story, he said “ You know, now, I wouldn’t shoot one of those poor bastards for a million dollars”.

Pop was in the service in the 2nd world war and was stationed in Darwin. He then went on to become a boundary rider on the Australian Dingo fence where it was his job to live out in the middle of nowhere in the corner country with his family and maintain his few hundred km’s of dog fence.

Pop was dying and was in and out of hospital constantly over those few months we were there. Rod would help feed, shave and wash him along with his mum and Aunties, who were all very close to their dad. Every time Rod would walk in the door old pops face would lighten up and the strain would ease a little for a while. Pops 6 eldest grandsons from each family carried him to his final resting place with his Bulldogs cap and an old rabbit trap proudly displayed on his coffin. It made me sad seeing each son and grandson, dressed in their suits and ties, getting into their modern vehicles for their journey back to their respective lives each lovingly clutching an old brown rusty rabbit trap.

Rod started his gigs around the Broken Hill Clubs
and traveled out to various towns playing in South Australian Hotels including, Quorn, Olary, Peterborough and Tibooburra, where he performed at the Family Hotel for the Starlight Foundation Rally, where we all had a fantastic night and raised a lot of money for Starlight which is a foundation that helps make a wish come true for dying children. Country Music Clubs also invited him to perform for their club day and we were warmly welcomed by the Northern Country Music Association of SA at Port Pirie and the Barossa Country Music Club at Nurioopta. These clubs are groups of people who love their country music and organize a day usually once a month in their chosen venue where they prepare lunches, cuppas and goodies and pay artists to come and perform for them. They are busy, active people and are a credit to their clubs.

The kids were all enrolled into Broken Hill schools
which was a 45 minute drive there and back every day. The kids made friends easy and often Rod would drop the kids off spend his day with pop in the hospital then pick them up to come home.

I worked at the Telecentre organising courses applicable to the locals and getting the “Bringing Communities to-gether back Outback Tour” underway. Other jobs included the Postal Service which I found to be an extremely personal and responsible position. Our two mail carriers Trevor and Ken would pick up the large bags of station mail often carrying tyres, gas bottles, spare parts etc for the stations in their 4WD and head out up the dusty tracks sometimes not getting back till late at night. We’d all be up hoping they weren’t bogged (if it rained) or had an accident and always glad to see them home safely.

The winter months were freezing and timber is not in plentiful supply out there so Rod would have to keep pops and our fire going with whatever he could find traveling out in pops ute to find a dead tree somewhere. I did notice that the garden sleepers around the house disappeared but as there were no gardens and they made the house warm I didn’t fuss too much

Our 3 boys had a wonderful time. They experienced a freedom they never had back at home. They all turned into Crusty demons, which for those of you who don’t know are dirt bike maniacs. The biggest problem was their push bike tyres were always flat with the sharp burrs. So after spending a fortune on “solids” and green tyre gunk they spent hours and hours building jumps, riding and riding bragging about how much “air” they could get off their jumps. They teamed up with their 12 year old Uncle Kaleb and the other town teenager Reece, who incidentely became Zac’s Siamese twin. Zac continued is guitar lessons at the Telecentre over phone and computer with Peter Groundwaters School of Music in Taree. Daniel loved most of all getting out onto Rod’s sisters and brother in laws sheep station about an hour Nth West of where we were based. Apart from occasionally asking to go home to our real home Jesse at 5 years old kept up pretty well with the bigger boys.

August 30th we started our 1st leg of the Telecentre tour up the Oodnadadatta Track, which follows the old Ghan Railway line, which stretched from Adelaide to Alice Springs. Stopping into the Parachillna Hotel Motel where lots of movies are made was a must before arriving to the first Telecentre in Maree. Maree was where the narrow gauge line of the Ghan changed over to the wider gauge before heading off to Alice. This town was strongly influenced by Aboriginal and Afghan families, was once a bustling town where most were employed by the railway. When the trains stopped from Adelaide they would have to unload all the travelers, goods and stock and re load onto the train to Alice. All the carriages were cleaned and prepared to return to Adelaide. The town therefore was a major stock holder where large holding yards were built to contain cattle, sheep and camels that were brought in by drovers before being transported to Alice or Adelaide.

A single concrete station and two huge big Diesel Engines are all that remains in the centre of the township with the modern Telecentre occupying the Historical stone railway station. It’s 3pm, school is out and the push bikes start piling up at the door as the kids scramble to the computers. Mostly shy aboriginal boys, the older ones are equipped with their own head sets while the younger ones capably access their favourite web site, Bob the Builder was very popular. It is evident in this town that the children are their main priority with a large group of them being encouraged to sing songs at Rod’s concert. Zac, our 13 year old son, found himself very popular with the girls aged from 16-8. I think he thought he was a movie star, and when he did his whip cracking routine, well there were girls in love everywhere.

Maree is on the way to Birdsville and of course we were there as the droves of travelers were passing through heading to the famous Birdsville Races. Asked by the Hotel to stay in town for an extra night to entertain the travelers we became amused by the entourage of big tough, plastered blokes dressed in T shirts, stubbies, boardies, boots and/ or thongs from Melbourne who seemed to prefer Kahlua and milk to beer. Then a bus would pull up, the girls would race to the loo, the boys to the bar, they’d all skull 10 drinks each jump back on the bus and gone again in a cloud of dust, they were on a mission to Birdsville.

We left Maree passing through the sourthern end of Lake Eyre. Always wanting to go to Lake Eyre when it was filled with water we unfortunately missed out on the water but were still amazed at the great expanse of shinning white salt plains. The road followed the old Ghan line and we stopped at one of the large bridges which had been built in the late 1800’s. We couldn’t help but feel for the men that worked on that line so many years ago with no modern conveniences. No electricity, water, housing, women, just tents, heat, steel, hard work, flies, more heat, more hard work and more flies.

We camped overnight at Williams Creek, it has a pub, two caravan parks and an airport, well an airstrip. There were little planes going this way and that, guess where too? YEP-Birdsville. We spent the next morning learning about the Artesian Basin with the kids, which really is worth investigating. It has kept the Outback alive and some of the water quality is far better than any town water I know of.

Arriving at Oodnadatta we were greeted by the jovial relief Policeman as the regular had gone to Birdsville. He informed us we had been robbed at Maree and after checking the gear out we were missing a few more things than just Rod’s boots which he claimed he couldn’t find that morning. Lucky for us the thief was an outer towner and the people of Maree very distressed about this and had told their (gorgeous by the way) Policeman what stolen goods he had in his car. So thanks to Mr gorgeous policeman eventually we got everything back…. except the boots.

But that wasn’t our only drama. When checking the trailer for lost property we found the carpet in the back had been friction burnt, puzzled we investigated further to find the spring hangers for our axles had broken off and the shear weight of the trailer had kept it intact…….JUST!!!!

So thanks to Richard the Oodnadatta Telecentre co-ordinator, the local step toe man Mr Coffey and Rod, the trailer was re welded and back on the road at 6am the next morning. We held the concert in the town hall which was usually set up for the kids disco and as the trailer was out of action we had the pleasure of sleeping the night in the hotel to be woken in the morning by kangaroos scratching at the door. The residents of Oodnadatta are mainly aboriginal and the Telecentre works in well with the school and for tourists calling in that require communication services.

Next day we arrive at Marla where apparently only 2 days before the authorities had thought they had found the missing Falconio’s genitalia in a dam. So of course swimming in dams became instantly non attractive and we went to the pub instead. The Marla’s Rest is a little like an Oasis and has a large Hotel, Motel with supermarket shops etc and only just over 400kms from Alice Springs. We had never been so close to Alice before and wished we had the time to keep going Nth. One of the best things about arriving into Marla was it was the first sealed road in over 800kms. Not only was the road rough on the vehicle and trailer it was difficult keeping out the dust. The Oodnadatta track is not tooooo bad, but if you want less car damage, take a 4WD or something suited to the conditions. A quick cold beer or two and we were off to the Mintabie Telecentre another 60kms of rough dirt road.

Mintabie is a remote township made up of many different nationalities mostly being Croation, we think. You actually have to get a permit to go to the town, we didn’t because we were stupid, but the local Policemen knew about us arriving. It is an Opal mining town that seriously affected my men, as they all came down with opal fever.

The Telecentre is in a large unused Takeaway, Pizza and Bakery shop. It has included a Kids club room where the quite large number of local teenagers hangout on a Friday night in their Music, Videos, games room. Apparently it is a big thing for the girls getting dressed up, the makeup and all. I thought that was a great service for isolated kids. Their modern school was very well funded and the town very active. The following day after the concert one of the locals took us on a tour of their own opal claim. Anyone can get an opal claim. You just pay your $150.00/ year and go and mark out your plot with white stakes. The area is approx 100m x 50m and you just dig for your life hoping to get rich. There are rules, you must never move anyone else’s claim boundary or touch their claim or else you might disappear.

They have been mining opal here for 100 years, but of course Rod knew instantly how to do it bigger and better. He wanted to get an excavator and take his brother Ryan out there who is a Shot Firer and blast the place to smithereens. The kids were too busy fighting over who found what bit of opal, they were like men possessed.

On the road again we decided to stay a couple of nights in Coober Pedy and Rod sang at the Yugoslavian Club. Coober Pedy has 57 nationalities living there. On arriving it is like a moon scape, with huge ant nest looking mounds in a barren land where opal frenzied opal miners dig and dig and dig hoping to make their millions. Many have, many haven’t. We did the touristy thing and went to a museum. It is amazing how the opal is made from liquid silica which drips from sand down through the earths crevices forming into opal over time.

Then onto the bizarre town of Woomera. There is something about Woomera. A perfectly kept almost ghost town with huge amounts of interesting history with the Australian Defence Force and Space projects now with an unknown future ??????

A stop at Port Augusta and back to Cockburn.

Preparing for the Mildura Country Music Festival we left September 19 out into NSW Outback Via Menindee to perform at the Ivanhoe Telecentre. Menindee is 100kms from Broken Hill and is home to beautiful lakes which are fed from the Darling river. It is an agricultural rich area but this time it made us very sad. If you have seen our poster the sunset scene is actually a photo of sunset on Menindee Lakes. The lake is currently dry, houses and fruit growing properties up for sale, due to the drought.

Ivanhoe is largely pastoral land and we enjoyed the night speaking with many of the cocky’s that had come to town for the concert. This town too, severely affected by drought.

Balranald Telecentre our next concert we enjoyed a peaceful camp on the rivers edge. Once a busy port for transport of wool, wheat and grains on the paddle boats the river is now very low, but the busy little town maintains pastoral lands with Olive tree plantations doing well.

The Mildura Country Music Festival. This was Rod’s first year as an invited artist and he performed at 20 spots over the Festival. It is an extremely popular well run Festival with great venues and great audiences. At this Festival Rod had the opportunity to be personal with his audience finding the opportunity to share the stories of his Album with them. Our Album sold well and Rod proved pretty popular with the ladies. Lucky for him the ones I found him giving a cuddle mostly had white hair. Mildura is a beautiful town on the Murray River and a must for any traveler. We were camped at The Palms Caravan Park and set up the tent for the 2 week stint. With green grass and shady trees we were able to settle down and with the help of my good friend Lindy who had decided to travel with us we started the kids on their Distance Education.

The Broken Hill Roundup is the following weekend after Mildura and Rod had the opportunity again to perform with different bands in the popular Shows held in the major Broken Hill Clubs.

October 17 was the Yunta Telecentre concert. Yunta is approx 200kms down the Barrier Highway towards Adelaide and has a very active Progress Association. Some very active dancers too as displayed on the night. We were feeling quite down as pop had died that week but the liveliness and participation of the concert goers made us feel at ease and we thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

October 20 we buried Jim Williams, Rod’s pop.

October 30, 2 weeks behind schedule we sadly but excitedly left Cockburn, Rod had his last gig at the West Darling Hotel, which was a hoot and we were off to QLD.

Before we leave I would like to pay tribute to the many volunteers we met in the Outback. Working at Cockburn taught me a lesson about caring for your community. Tirelessly throughout the years two women in particular come to mind. Iris Williams and Janice Allison have dedicated their lives to their town. Working far many more hours than the usual 38 paid hours a week without a grumble doing tasks that vary from official Government Business, running the local post office to recycling. There are many others like them and through my own experiences they have earnt my deepest respect. Many of our countries population could learn a lot from them. I know I have.

Outback QLD. Rods gigs included Cunnamulla, Charleville, Blackall, Longreach and Hughenden. We were lucky enough to meet the President of the Charleville Fishing Club who allowed us to camp at their club grounds for a few nights. Equipped with the enourmous “Yellow Belly Bar”. The club grounds host the annual Rodeo and Gymkhanas. As for fishing well we weren’t sure where that happened so figured the fish shaped bar determined it was a fishing club. The club consisted of dedicated workers who daily would water the grass and maintain the grounds. We spent Melbourne Cup day at the Charleville races. This was my first horse race ever and we had a fantastic day topped off by our day being paid for by Rod betting $10.00 on the winnng horse.

Drought, drought and more drought is evident in outback QLD. At Blackall the home and resting place of the famous “Jackie Howe” blade shear Champion no longer has any sheep. All sold up and moved out.

Longreach looked to be in better condition and the amount of road kill was testament to that. We had been longing to go to the Stockmans Hall of Fame for many years. We were not disappointed as the museum has a wonderful, modern yet sincere display of Australias (in particularly Outback) Heritage. We spent hours in there, the kids learning so much. Young Jesse’s favourite display was of Smoky Dawson. He watched the film clip 25 times and was captivated by Smoky’s talents. In fact we all thought he was a real showman.

To top our day at the Stockman’s Hall of Fame we were in the souvenir shop to find our “Earthmover” CD on display for sale. We felt very proud and honored to have our CD for sale in such a prominent and respected establishment. Just to be part of the Stockman’s Hall of Fame.


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